Thursday, July 12, 2018

July: Armstrong

Nanci Griffith: Armstrong

It isn’t a particularly profound or original observation to point out that 1969 was a pivotal year. There were Woodstock and Altamont and tons of amazing albums, Nixon’s inauguration, the Stonewall Riots, the Mets won the World Series, the U.S. secretly bombed Cambodia while the antiwar movement gained strength, the Beatles had their picture taken on Abbey Road and performed for the last time, the Manson family went on a murder spree, Sesame Street debuted, and Ted Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident. Just for starters.

But if you had to pick the number one event of 1969, you’d probably pick the small step for man, and giant leap for mankind—Neil Armstrong’s first step on the moon, which took place in July, 1969. I was 8 when it happened, and I remember being allowed to stay up late to watch history being made. (Most of the other times I was allowed a late bedtime that year related to the Mets). As a kid in those days, there was little more exciting than watching rockets launch—we’d stare at the TV, waiting for the countdown, and what seemed like the slow climb of the rocket into space.  Which may be why MTV's early branding included videos of rockets and moonwalks. The moon landing was something truly amazing, especially when you consider that the watch I’m wearing now probably has more computing power in it than the entire Apollo 11 mission used.

While watching the landing, John Stewart, formerly of the Kingston Trio, wrote a song, “Armstrong,” which is about how despite all of the problems in the world, and our differences, everyone watched, or heard, about Armstrong’s amazing feat. I can honestly say that I never heard the song, but here it is:

(That’s the single version, which is different from the version released a few years later on Stewart’s album, Cannons In The Rain. I never heard that version either.)

The song has been covered a few times over the years, but the one I did hear was by Nanci Griffith, on her album Clock Without Hands. In fact, the album features three Stewart covers, including “Armstrong,” and Stewart plays acoustic guitar on the track. (Pete and Maura Kennedy, who I saw at Clearwater, contribute mandoguitar and vocals). It is a pleasant folk song, and Nancy Griffith’s distinctive vocal style works well. And the lyrics mention July.

The Dexateens, an underappreciated band from Alabama, released a song called “Neil Armstrong” a few years ago on their excellent album Hardwire Healing, which was produced by the Drive-By Truckers’ Patterson Hood and David Barbe, who was in Sugar and has produced Truckers albums. Matt Patton, the Dexateens' bass player now fills that slot in the Truckers. Unlike the Stewart song, though, the Dexateens seem to be focusing more on how the moon shot, and his celebrity, affected Armstrong. And the lyrics also mention July.

Apparently, there are some people who believe that it was actually Louis Armstrong who was the first man to walk on the moon. He wasn’t, of course (although he sang “Moon River”), but he died in July—on the 6th, in 1971, at his home in Corona, Queens, about a mile from Shea Stadium, where the Mets lost 5-1 to the Expos.

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